So here's the deal. The same people who lied to us about reading for 70 years now want us to believe they are finally telling the truth.
They said that English isn't phonetic, that children don't need the alphabet and the sounds, that children need only to look at words and memorize the shapes. All this was utter nonsense.
They further said that if children didn't recognize a word (which they typically didn't as it's hard work to memorize a word by its shape), they should look for a picture clue, they should guess, they should skip ahead, they should figure out the words from context. Oh, there was a big list of things that kids should do because, in reality, they didn't know how to read. Again, all this was utter nonsense.But now, after all these lies and all those brutal painful decades when our public schools were churning out 50 million functional illiterates, well, we should just forget all that. We should forgive all that! And now we should believe that the same people who systematically caused all that destruction have finally got reading figured out. Really?!?Isn't this like the child molester who says he is no longer interested in children? Do we believe him? Why, when our so-called experts were wrong all that time, should we believe that they are right now?
And you know what's really funny, as in bizarre? They don't have any new ideas or new answers. They want to go on using their old, useless ideas. But now the bad ideas are to be mixed in with good ideas; and they call this combo Balanced Literacy. Suppose you have some good water and dirty water, and you mix them together. Do you now have Balanced Water? No, you have dirty water.
In Balanced Literacy, our Education Establishment says, okay, we won't try to exclude all phonics. Sure, chatter away about phonemic awareness and that phonics stuff. But kids in the early grades have to memorize their sight-words JUST LIKE BEFORE.
So right there, at the threshold of learning, literacy, and knowledge, the kids waste a few years trying to memorize several hundred sight-words (aka high-frequency words). That's the sick essence of Balanced Literacy.
Meanwhile, the rest of a child's education (remember Geography, Science, History, all that?) will be on hold because it is difficult to read about Pilgrims coming to the New World when you are still trying to memorize the shapes of SEE, THEN, IT, SOME, ON, AND, FOR, LOOK, THE, RUN, etc.
Meanwhile again, sight-word instruction often results in a permanent crippling of the child's cognitive processes. That is, the child sees a word and tries to find the shape IN HIS MEMORY, as opposed to saying the sounds that the shapes stand for. If this whole-word tendency dominates -- and note that the child is simply doing what he was told to do -- this child will rarely become a fluent reader. Such a child will usually become what is called a functional illiterate. Such children typically memorize 100 to 1000 sight-words, and that will be the extent of their reading. Even if they try to move on to phonetic reading, their brains will often remain trapped in sight-word guessing games.
And here comes the punch line. If anybody dares to question these failed ideas, a principal will say, as if speaking of a religious doctrine: "We believe in a balanced approach," implying by the word "balanced" that the school is now embarked on a course of reason, intelligence, enlightenment, etc.
It's precisely the phrase "a balanced approach"--given that the damage done now in the early grades is much the same as it was during the previous half-century--that is most offensive. What could be more unbalanced? Surely these people know their own horrible track record. So now, for trying to give us the same damaged goods, surely we must suspect some degree of diminished reason. Here is an idea that has failed millions of times. If you keep pushing it, possibly it's because you are yourself unbalanced and indeed unhinged.
Balanced Literacy can be understood best as a strategic retreat by our Education Establishment. They don't want to confess their sins. So they just turn down a new road.
There's another way to view Balanced Literacy: a public relations dodge. The schools say such soothing things as: "We selected the best from all methods"; "We believe in teaching to each student's strengths"; and "We practice a balanced approach."
Who could be against that? Only everybody, if you want to save the next generation of kids.
Now, this article is somewhat sharply stated. It's important to make parents confront what is going on in their schools. Really look at what is being taught and what exactly the child is expected to do. All so-called sight-words can be taught phonetically. Why bother with an unnecessary detour that will serve only to retard progress? The best solution is that parents, when their children are two, three or four, start teaching them the alphabet and the sounds. If you let your child go to a public school where Balanced Literacy is taught, your child may very well be an inferior reader forever.
(Note to nation: teach children to read early. See "54: Preemptive Reading" for how to start the process. On the writer's site Improve-Education.org
...A new article titled "61: Early Literacy Pack" deals with assists that might accelerate learning to read.)
(The YouTube video shows how false reading theory fits into a larger pattern. Less than 4 minutes.)